What do they want?

13 Nov

Shifting from aid to development is happening right now, that seems to be a fact. Considering the many authors arguing there is a need to step up the process, aid is not leading to the achievement of the promised economic growth.
Aside the evolution that history proves to happen regular and continuously, there are some more palpable causes leading to this change.

As Tom Hewitt wrote in his presentation, the “West is no longer best, nor does the West undermine the rest”. The fact is that the West is not the centre.
Emerging countries have stepped in and completely changed the world order of interests. These are much fast-growing economies than the OECD ones, there are willing to invest a great part of their exponential GDP in countries keen to benefit from it. The most relevant example is the ‘commodities-for-infrastructure concessional financing’ model that China is practicing especially in Africa (Smith 2011) with no strings attached, as the respect for human rights or democracy (Downs 2007).

Change is happening in several lanes, but I believe we are in a somewhat indefinite time. In parallel there is a debate going on among development practitioners who defend moving on from aid as a mean of support for developing countries. On the one side, some defend long-term development policies (Barder 2010). On the other, critics argue that short to medium-term “arrangements” would give better results (Unsworth 2010 and Booth 2011).

From short to long term

Unsworth (2010b) advocates that policymakers should focus on local governance and profit from informal relationship-based activities. Developing countries have their own structure of local politics that should not be ignored. Development aid agencies should try to understand the functioning of these local structures and work with them. Notwithstanding, the respect for local institutions is a valuable idea, I believe the positive results might be limited not only in quantity but in quality. There are successful examples like the ones mentioned by the author but these are very few.
The results of this practice would be difficult to measure and evaluate, from my point of view. Furthermore the borderline between donors and recipients could become tenuous, facilitating corruption mechanisms despite the better understanding of the ground.

Booth (2011) has a similar position about donors and the need to change from a model based on economic growth to one based on local institution building, making the most of the already existing ones.
Booth (2011b) rightly defends best fit practices instead of universal best practices. But as he admits, “adapting programming to individual country contexts takes time, local knowledge and specialist skills” to know exactly what are the efficient local networks. To pursue that purpose I argue that there is a niche here for aid agencies or more to NGOs to shift from policy areas of expertise to country or regional areas of expertise as “every situation is unique”. Otherwise this theory risks achieving only random good results.

I believe that working with the informal or local network of institutions has to be instrumental for the development process but not an end in itself.
The transformation process (Barder 2010b) comes from within the country and is slowly happening in the long term. But from my point of view, it has to be anchored on both institution-building and economic growth for the virtuous cycle to start off (Graig, Hulme, and Turner 2007).

I agree that we need to look beyond aid and focus on international development as the bigger picture, like international responsibilities as Tom Hewitt said. But what do developing countries want? To my understanding this should indeed be our central question. Otherwise results of any aid, support, governance improvement or transformation will always look scarce from any of the Western world lenses.

Going back to the beginning of my post, the “West is no longer best, nor does the West undermine the rest” because emerging economies and BRICS countries have already changed the rules to the “go your own way” version (Hewit).


Barder, O., Aid versus Development Policy [][Accessed on 9/11/11]

Booth, D., 2011, Governance for Development in Africa: Building on what Works. Africa Power and Politics, Policy Brief, no. 1, April 2011 

Downs, E. S., 2007, The fact and fiction of Sino-African energy relations, China Security, Vol. 3 No. 3 Summer 2007, pp. 42, 2007 World Security Institute

Graig, A., Hulme, D. and Turner, M. (2007) Challenging global inequality: development theory and practice in the 21st century, London: Palgrave Macmillan

Smith, K. (2011), Non-DAC and Humanitarian aid: Shifting structures, changing trends, Global Humanitarian Assistance, [online] [accessed November 5th 2011]

Unsworth, S. (2010) An Upside Down View of Governance. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies


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